Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 5 1998 3:30 AM

Drawing upon her rich experience of life, Prudence (Prudie to her friends) responds to questions about manners, personal relations, politics, and other subjects. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Queries should not exceed 200 words in length. Please indicate how you wish your letter to be signed, preferably including your location.

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Dear Prudie,

I am simply sick at heart about the $1 billion payload that literally went up in smoke. What's with our space program people, anyway? Are they inept, can these things not be helped, or have we no business trying this stuff in the first place?

--Rocket Doubter in Arizona

Dear Rock,

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Like you, Prudie was appalled at the literal burning up of $1 billion. Just think what that money could have accomplished for programs "down here." Prudie does not know the right answer to your question, but she can't help but be reminded of Lady Violet Bonham-Carter's remark: "Outer space is no place for a person of breeding."

--Prudie, groundedly

Dear Prudie,

A close friend is a plastic surgeon who did some minor (OK, semi-major) facial work on me in the past. The results were fine, but now I want to go to a far more famous--far more expensive--plastic surgeon for major work: a facelift.

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I know my plastic surgeon friend is going to notice the changes when we get together and will likely feel hurt that I chose a competitor. How can I have my new face and my old friend at the same time?

--Fan of Uplift

Dear Fan,

There are many options. 1) You could say to your surgeon friend what Ivana Trump said: I'm very well rested, and I changed my makeup. 2) You could tell your friend that you won Dr. Famous in a raffle. 3) You could say you were in an auto accident, and the ambulance driver took you straight to Dr. Famous' office. 4) You could be truthful and say your own version of "I was overcome by curiosity about this much talked about doc, and now I know his work is as good as yours."

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And this is to give you fortitude: Prudie's close doctor friend tells her that good doctors understand these things and do not take affront.

--Prudie, soothingly

Dear Prudence,

I can't believe I'm writing to an online lady for advice, but things are rotten with my marriage. My wife, who has the more important job, is almost disdainful of me in front of friends and anything but friendly in private. She is the master of the withering remark and is hypercritical of nearly everything I do or say.

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To be fair, I want to pass on to you a complaint that I do find valid, so you can better judge the situation. She objects to a habit that is really part of my personality. For whatever reason, I am what you might call a back-seat driver, even when we're not in a car. My instinct is to give her directions, which way to turn, how to get places, etc. Her directional sense is average, not terrible. I fear where this is heading. Have you any ideas?

--Hanging on in St. Louis

Dear Hang,

From your outline of things, it sounds to Prudie as though you are living in ballbuster hell, and she is married to a shepherd. Gut instinct tells me there are underlying problems festering that make her mean. (Prudie, for example, could use directions more often than not, and coming from a loving partner they would cause no irritation.) Your herding her around suggests that you are compensating, in the sense that you have found a way to assert control.

You both need to get to the bottom of the serious troubles undermining your marriage. Whether or not you two can do it alone or with a counselor is your call. But do something and go forward--either together or separately.

--Prudie, certainly

Dear Prudie,

Granted, I am not young, but I am not a fuddy-duddy either. Are you reacting to all the blue nail polish, body piercings, spiky hair, and nose rings? Sometimes the young salespeople are so strange looking it is distracting. Am I nuts and just out of it?

--Thanks,Fussy or Normal

Dear Fuss,

Prudie--not young but not a fuddy-duddy, either--couldn't agree with you more. Often feeling like a lobotomized dowager, Prudie blanches when she sees some of the young people, frequently wondering how it is possible that they think they look appealing. There is hope, though. When they grow a little older and get serious about becoming employed, the green hair and atavistic piercings disappear. Alas, we seem to be stuck with the odd-colored nail polish--purple, blue, and green being Prudie's unfavorites.

--Prudie, wistfully